Frazzled? Somewhat confused, a tad exhausted and emotionally drained? You are not alone, and it isn’t always because of the kids.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), an estimated 164,000 Australians had autism in 2015.
This number continues to grow as getting a diagnosis becomes more accessible. Many families with an autistic child(ren) report feeling isolated, exhausted and lonely.
However, there are simple ways we can all support parents and families with autistic children.
If a parent mentions their child has autism- please believe them. Refrain from the old- it’s not autism, the kid just needs to be pulled into line, or “but they doesn’t look autistic”- or the “it’s just bad parenting”. Please don’t think that autism is a result of bad parenting, vaccines or how many cheezels Mum ate when she was pregnant.
Chances are if a parent says their child has autism… they have autism.
In your empathetic quest to relate to said parent, please don’t mention the movie Rain Man, your cousin that has 5 kids on the spectrum, the kids you once knew with autism, the guy from the post office that has autism and every other person that may have autism because each person on the spectrum is different. Different in personality, different interests, Different full stop.
2. Learn about Autism- ask questions. Get to know the child’s interests.
One of the greatest ways to support a parent with a child on the spectrum is to learn about and understand Autism.
Once you learn that Autism is just different wiring, you’ll be on your way to understanding the many positives that children on the spectrum have. You will also have a better understanding of the challenges kids on the spectrum face.
- Sensory issues- noises, smells, lights, crowds, food, clothing. Sensory seeking/avoiding… the list goes on,
- Language and communication (speech)
- Social skills- challenges reading facial expressions and social cues. Challenges engaging in conversation or socially. This can be very overwhelming, exhausting and generally hard work.
Through understanding possible triggers, behaviors, communication and interests you will be able to offer support.
There is nothing more wonderful than another person taking the time to connect and help with a child.
If that means embracing passions (ranging from washing machines, Thomas the tank, clocks, My Little Pony, fans, craft..ANYTHING!)
Make an effort to connect via an interest. This is like a porthole into the child’s world. Let’s call it common ground. A safe, familiar interest that motivates the child, engages the child and makes the child feel calm and content. Happy, calm child= happy calm parent.
3. Be understanding.
There are going to be plenty of times when a spectrum parent cancels plans, runs late and leaves early. There might be times where the parent goes off the grid for a while. You can support this parent by being understanding. Please keep inviting the parent, child, family to events. Regardless of how many times spectrum parents may cancel or decline- still being asked and included makes such a difference.
Understand that sensory overload is a nightmare for some kids on the autism spectrum. Noise, smells, light, people.. all of this can be exhausting and actually painful. You can help with this, by planning visits and catch up with consideration.
When picking a venue (such as a cafe) check with the parent where is a suitable auti- friendly place. Be selective of parks, times of play and time spent catching up. Short and sweet is often best!
4. Celebrate with the parent
The small things really are the big things. Whether it’s talking for the first time, making it to the shops without a meltdown, learning to use the toilet or even touching a new food. These things can be epic!
5. Be a listening ear.
All parents have rough days. Some days, rougher than others, If you can make time for a phone call, a message and lend an ear- you will help combat the loneliness and isolation that so many Autism families feel.
If all else fails, give hugs and a listening ear, (wine and chocolate optional).
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